This week we’ll continue our discussion of Charlotte Mason habits by
looking at moral habits. Moral habits are commonly thought of as character traits. But if you think about it, character is formed by habits. “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character.” Here are the habits Charlotte mentioned that fall neatly into the category of Moral Habits.

  • Integrity (as shown in your Priorities, Finishing tasks, your Use of Time, and how you treat Borrowed Property)
  • Obedience
  • Personal Initiative
  • Reverence (respect for other people and property)
  • Self-Control (keeping back the expression of our passions and emotions)
  • Sweet, Even Temper
  • Truthfulness
  • Usefulness (offering valuable or productive service to others)

This list contains the other two of Charlotte’s Top Three — the habits she wrote about most. We talked about Attention last time, one of the Top Three. The other two are Obedience and Truthfulness.

(May I insert a note of encouragement here? If you are feeling overwhelmed at the thought of fifty-plus habits, you might consider focusing on only the Top Three for now: obedience, truthfulness, and attention. How much smoother will your life at home be with obedient, truthful, attentive children? Those three would make a great place to start!)

Here are some practical suggestions from Charlotte’s writings to help us cultivate the habits of obedience and truthfulness in our children.


  1. Expect obedience. And she went so far as to say “prompt, cheerful, lasting obedience” — every time. I love this quote: “Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having.”
  2. Never give a command that you don’t intend to see fully carried out.
  3. Don’t pester your child with excessive or continual commands.
  4. When possible, plan ahead and give your child advance notice for transition times. (For example, “In five minutes it will be time to clean up the toys. Please finish up your game.”)


  1. Require exact facts without omission or exaggeration.
  2. Teach your child to avoid qualifying his statements with “I think” or “perhaps.” Be sure before you speak!
  3. Don’t use excessive language for common situations. (For example, “That was such an awesome sandwich!”)
  4. If your child has a hard time distinguishing between imaginary and reality, give him daily lessons in truthful reporting. Send him to the window to tell you what he sees — exactly and with no omissions or exaggerations. Give him a message to deliver to your husband, and send him off with a piece of paper and a pencil so your husband can write the message as it was spoken. You can then check the message to see if it was delivered truthfully.

One last tip about cultivating moral habits. These habits, especially, can be greatly reinforced and encouraged with living books or examples. Tell your child the story of a famous person who exhibited truthfulness, like George Washington and the cherry tree. Introduce him to a person you know who exemplifies personal initiative. Read a biography about a person who was careful with borrowed property, like Abraham Lincoln’s walking miles to borrow and return books. Such living ideas will go far in motivating your child to develop moral habits.


  1. Thanks for these reminders and especially for the “CM in a nutshell” regarding some of her views on habit training. We can never hear enough of this kind of message!
    I wanted to offer one little suggestion, after 11 kids and 28 years of parenting (with 8 children still at home and MANY years to go….)
    Many parents begin with a focus on obedience since that seems to be the “primary” character quality, but I have found it beneficial to teach attentiveness first. When children develop a habit of attending to their parent’s voices and instructions they are in a better position to comprehend and obey. This also makes it less likely that they will use excuses like “I didn’t hear you” or “I didn’t know that’s what you meant.” 🙂

    Teaching a child to look in your eyes (which means no yelling at them from another room :), repeat back what they heard, and offer an immediate reply make life so much more pleasant for parent and child.

    Looking forward to hearing more from you on this subject!

    Debbie P.

  2. Thank you Sonya and Debbie, for these ideas. I discovered Charlotte Mason a few years back and was astounded by her good, common sense; and even more astounded that I had overlooked something as integral and obvious to living as habits.

    I’m sure it is always better to be strict (yet kind) than lax, with children, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of grace in the Mason system, for children or for their parents. For instance, the phrase of Ms. Mason’s that you quoted, “Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having”, made me think right away of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21–

    “A man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ He answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind, and went. He came to the second, and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but he didn’t go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They [pharisees] said to him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly I tell you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God before you.”

    God seems to delight in even our weak or late efforts to follow Him.

    As a mother, who didn’t receive specific “habit training” myself (and somehow managed to keep from absorbing the ordered environment of my childhood, and the gentle manner of my mother), I consider training my four boys in helpful habits to be one of the most important things I will do in my life. I love Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education and child-training, so I’m don’t mean to nitpick. However, I’ve read my way through about half of Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series and I have the same reaction every time I read–excitement and elation over her ideas, but a lingering feeling that I’m being stuffed (and told to stuff my children) into a Jello mold. Some of her recommendations seem impossible to demand of everyone, given personality differences; and what’s more, they seem stuck in turn of the century British etiquette. Of course, we have lost and need to recover some of the wisdom of the past. But do you think John the Baptist (or Jesus Christ, for that matter) had a “sweet, even temper”? Does self control always mean keeping our passions unexpressed?

    Any way. I’m still reading CM and still loving her.

    • Well put, Rachael. Your post is a timely reminder that Charlotte’s ideas (and any human being’s, for that matter) should be taken as suggestions and compared with the absolute truth of Scripture and bathed in prayer for God’s clear direction for the situation in which He has placed us. Charlotte does hold up high standards and ideals that may not fit every child or situation. We must be careful not to put her writings on par with the Bible or take her writings as “the letter of the law.” But so much of her philosophy is such good common sense (as you said), we can all certainly appreciate her spirit of excellence, while mixing it with our own dose of grace and love.

  3. Rachael, your comments above are important to remember as we quite imperfectly attempt to live out our faith. I have struggled in considering the balance of grace/mercy and judgment within the scale and scope of godly parenting. There can certainly be no question that they play a necessary and important role. However, while we stop to take this into question we must never lose sight of the standard of perfection to which we are held by our Heavenly Father.

    “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) Throughout the history of man the problem has always been our humanity.

    Therefore, while we, in our human condition, struggle to “fairly’ and justly train our children we must be careful to maintain this standard. For the sake of our children we would do well to train them to seek perfection in themselves. We, as parents, are then free to consider on a case by case basis the limitations, whether environmental, innate or what have you, of our children. At each application of grace or mercy we are afforded an opportunity to train them in the valuable lesson of God’s most gracious act of grace and mercy (The sacrifice and atonement carried out by Christ).

    I feel Charlotte Mason was correct in having high standards. As Sonya mentioned the responsibility of the parent is next to prayerfully consider how we implement whatever method or methods of child training we choose and also to measure them against the Word of God.

  4. Sonya and Melissa, Thanks for your thoughts in response to mine. I’m in agreement with what you say. High standards are important; as Melissa pointed out, we are to “be holy”. My observation was only that sorting out which standards are essential and which are merely cultural (but may still be worthy of pursuit) is tricky. If we look to the Bible, we’ve got:

    “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    It seems that the living out of this injunction could be as multi-faceted and unique as the individual Christian. I don’t think ‘the problem has always been our humanity’, I think the problem has always been our sin. (I realize this is probably what you meant but it’s important to clarify.) Sin is like a parasite, corrupting our true humanity. In this sense, loving God and our neighbor is the process that makes us human, again. We can’t do this well, without cultivating habits. I think Charlotte Mason was a genius educator. Most children are capable of most of these habits and most of these habits have value. So, I’m not being argumentative; I just wanted to point out the obvious rootedness of any “guide to behaviour/habits” in its own place and time, among a certain group of people.

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